An ambulette driver in her 40s suffered a back injury. A medical assistant, 40, had a hysterectomy. A young mother had problem feet that ached after waitressing.
Each had pain. Each saw a local doctor. Each became addicted to painkillers in the same chemical family as heroin.
“If it wasn’t so easy for me … to get Percocet, I probably never would’ve used Percocet, or heroin,” the young mom said of the painkiller she took for three years and the illicit drug it led to. The ambulette driver, who was on legal pills for six years, said, “No one ever said, ‘Isn’t there another way?'”
These women, who asked not to be named because of the stigma of addiction and its challenge to recovery, pose a simple question: How did they — and thousands like them — become drug-addicted under the care of licensed physicians?
The state office that oversees physicians has a mission to “protect the public by investigating professional discipline issues” among doctors and their assistants. But an exclusive Poughkeepsie Journal review of cases brought by the Office of Professional Medical Conduct shows the oversight group did little at the epidemic’s height to curb the overprescribing or the casualty count it wrought.
Krystin Zeller, right, now 26 and recovering from a painkiller addiction, is hugged by her close friend Christine Spinney, who died last October at 22 of a heroin overdose. They would text every morning until one day Christine did not respond. “I knew,” Zeller said. Read Zeller’s story of addiction and recovery in her words.
From 2009 to 2013, the office, part of the New York State Department of Health, brought prescribing-related misconduct charges against 32 physicians of some 90,000 licensed, the study showed. Of those, just four lost their licenses.